Throughout my life I’ve learned how to potty train a puppy using various methods and have found the easiest way to potty train a dog or puppy is through crate training. As a Guide Dogs of America puppy raiser we are required to crate train our puppies. Lucky for me I successfully crated trained Linus 2 years before I received Stetson from Guide Dogs of America.
Many people have advised me that every dog is different when it comes to crate training. Some dogs will take to the crate very easily while others are a struggle. Unfortunately for me both Linus and Stetson were a struggle when it came to crate training. Just remember be consistent and persistent.
What Is A Crate?
A crate is a wire or molded plastic kennel that simulates a nest or den environment. A crate can become a puppy’s safe place, not to mention a house saver. When properly used, the crate becomes a security blanket, a place where the puppy can retreat to escape the household confusion and to feel secure. Never use the crate as a form of punishment! The dog crate should offer a positive, secure environment, a calming zone.
The crate can be effective in house-training. Confined to a crate, an unattended puppy cannot destroy or soil anything. Do not crate the puppy during the day for more than 3 hours (this is recommended when the puppy is very young…as he gets older he will be able to tolerate more time in his crate during the day).
Wire Vs. Molded Plastic
I’ve used both types of crates and believe that both work very well for crate training. I prefer the wire crates vs. the molded plastic mainly for a few reasons.
- Wire crates can fold up flat for easy transportation.
- Wire crates have better air circulation.
- The wire crate I purchased came with a divider. You can use the divider to make the crate smaller during the early puppy stages.
The wire crate I currently use is called Midwest Life Stages Fold & Carry Wire Mesh Dog Crate – 24″L. This is a very versatile crate and has worked crate for both Stetson and Linus.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
Start crate training your puppy on its first night.
- Place the crate in your bedroom where the puppy can still see and hear what is going on.
- Put a blanket or towels in the crate for bedding. A pup will rarely soil the crate, however, if he does, try removing the bedding.
- A crate should not be too big, but large enough for the puppy to stand, stretch and turn around.
- When placing the puppy in the crate, use word “kennel” or “kennel up”.
- If he should happen to fall asleep somewhere else, pick him up and place him inside and quietly shut the door.
Do not hesitate to periodically use the crate, even while you are home. You may feed the puppy in his crate and give him some favorite toys, to keep the experience positive.
My Recommendations Through Experiences With My Dogs
A few other points I learned with my own dogs.
- Consistency - Just as I always preach be consistent. Linus and Stetson cried and whined the first few weeks of crate training. I rarely got more than a few consecutive hours of sleep. After about 4 weeks Stetson stopped crying, whining, and howling and would walk into his crate when I gave the “kennel up” command. Linus was not as bad when sleeping in the bedroom, but when I’d leave him alone he’d bark non-stop hours on end. It took him a couple weeks to get used to his crate. Stick to it and BE CONSISTENT.
- Talk to your dog - Linus was fine in his crate when I was in the room, but Stetson whined even if I was in the bed right next to him. I used two things with Stetson. First to get him to stop whining I’d say “SHHH”. Second, when he stopped whining I’d give him praise (as long as he remained quiet). This was my ritual to get him to sleep.
- Remove bedding (sometimes) – Stetson liked chewing on his bedding when I was away. If your dog does the same then be sure and remove the bedding so he does not choke on it.
- Remove his collar – I recommend you remove your dogs collar (regular and training). You dogs collar can get caught on the crate and he could get choked.
- Crate Size – As mentioned in step 3 make sure your crate is not too big. If the crate is too big your puppy may potty on one side of the crate while he sleeps on the other side.
One final hint that I learned when Stetson was staying with a puppy sitter. Be sure not to collapse your wire crate and lay it flat on the ground. Stetson’s crate was flat on the ground when he heard someone at the front door. He ran to greet them and tried to run over the top of the collapsed wire crate. Unfortunately, one of Stetson’s claws got caught in the crate and tore part of the quick in his paw. It wasn’t too bad, but we still took Stetson to the vet to clean up his paw. Below is a picture of Linus and Stetson with his injured paw after his crate accident.
Parts of this article are taken from my Guide Dogs of America Puppy Manual. For more information on Guide Dogs visit the Guide Dogs of America website.
Have you crate trained your dog? Have you had any problems with crate training? Let me know your thoughts in the comments area.
Crate training puppies is not always an easy step-by-step process. Check out this link on 14 tips that might help you crate train your puppy: Crate training puppies.
Your puppy’s first night at home. It’s definitely exciting…It’s definitely fun…Here are some things to think about before your puppy arrives at your home.
It’s been just about a year since I brought Stetson home from Guide Dogs of America. It made me think of our wonderful first meeting in Sylmar, CA and also the countless nights without sleep for the following four weeks. Guide Dogs of America does not leave you empty handed. They give you a guide on what to expect and what you should do during those first few days and nights. These steps aren’t only for guide dogs and can be followed by anyone bringing home a puppy for the first time.
Everything’s New…Everything’s a First
Much of this is taken from my GDA handbook some of it paraphrased with some of my comments mashed in between.
First things first…We are informed that up to this point your puppy has been with his mother and his littermates in a sterile environment. It’s advised that your puppy’s first week at home should be a quiet one. The puppy should be allowed to explore and meet his new family. You should now start teaching the puppy his name (amazing because, now Stetson knows his name like the back of his paw). When you first arrive home give your puppy a chance to relieve itself in an area you have designated for that purpose (Stetson’s designated spot was in the dirt area on my patio).
Take your puppy out on leash (without his bib on) — GDA puppy’s in training are never allowed to “Get Busy” with their bib/jacket on — and repeat “Get Busy” (Remember this may be the first time your puppy has heard these words). Allow your puppy 10-15 minutes, if he hasn’t relieved, take him inside. Try again in 10 minutes. If the puppy does relieve itself in the proper area, give him lots of praise. Then let him explore the house (remember to supervise – don’t let him out of your sight). Afterwards your may take it inside, but remember to supervise the puppy; do not let it out of your sight. Talk to the puppy when it explores to make it feel more at home.
Puppy’s First Night At Home
If you’ve raised a puppy before then you probably know this is where the real fun begins.
From the GDA handbook:
The first few nights at home may be difficult for both you and your pup. At night the puppy will feel lonely and will probably demonstrate this by whining (Oh, you betcha!). These are a few things that you can do that might make the puppy feel at home.
- Your puppy’s sleeping quarters should be in a small crate. – I had a large crate with a partion and put a blanket over it to make it seem more cozy.
- Keep the crate in a draft free area next to your bed. For approximately the first three weeks, if your puppy cries, take him out, on leash to relieving area. After relieving put him back into his crate. Do not give him any treats or any play time. Put him right back into his crate and he should go back to sleep.
- Give the puppy a stuffed dog toy to snuggle with. – I was told to bring a toy with me to GDA when we met the litter and get each of Stetson’s littermates scent on the toy. Then when it was time to crate Stetson for the first night he could snuggle with the toy and smell his littermate’s scent.
- Under no circumstances take the puppy to bed with you. This will form a very undesirable habit. - trust me…it’s difficult to avoid doing when your puppy is whining all night, but it’s very important to leave him in his crate.
Puppy’s First Feeding
This will be your puppy’s first meal by himself. Once your puppy’s food is prepared, you will start having your puppy sit and wait for his food. Hold your puppy by his collar by slipping your thumb in his collar and set his food about two feet away. As soon as he stops wiggling, say the words “O.K.” and release your puppy. This should be done at every meal throughout training.
My Experiences With My Puppy
At Stetson’s puppy kindergarten I was always reminded that every puppy is different. Even within a breed. There are several people in our group who have raised 10 or more Labrador Retrievers in the Guide Dogs of America program and each one is different.
My experience with Stetson was very difficult in the early days and weeks. I had no problem with Stetson when I first got him home. I already knew about the trials and tribulations with house training and crate training. Puppy’s tend to piddle about every 10 to 20 minutes. You have to watch them like a hawk or they will end up using your house as their personal restroom. Stetson had some accidents here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The agony came in the evening. Stetson did NOT take to the crate! He whined, and howled, and cried, and barked…probably made every noise he could possibly produce, but would not relax and go to sleep. He did sleep once in a while. During those first 4 weeks the most sleep I got was approximately 6 hours, broken up 3 or 4 times a night by whining, howling, barking…you get the picture. I was a wreck and I thought Stetson would never get used to his crate. The only way I was able to get him to sleep was to talk to him for 5-10 minutes, telling him what a “good boy” he was when he wasn’t crying (if he did cry I would just keep silent tell he stopped). To try and quiet him down I’d either say “quiet” or “Shhh”.
I have two words for you – consistent and patient. After about 4 weeks of consistently sticking to my guns, not letting him out of his crate, and praising him when he was quiet Stetson suddenly stopped making noise in his crate. He’d let me sleep through the night and I thought I’d reached bliss.
I’m constantly reminded that I need to be consistent with Stetson’s training and patient. In the long run it pays off. Stetson has not barked, howled, or whined in months. In a matter a fact I can only recall him barking one time in the past 1/2 year (he barked because he was trying to get my attention to go outside). I actually think it’s kind of unusual that he doesn’t bark at all anymore, but it gives me more peace and quiet.
What experiences do you have with your puppy’s first night at home? Was it miserable? Did you get any sleep?